Plagiarism: The Far-Reaching Effects of Copied Content

The effects of plagiarismAlthough plagiarism isn’t illegal, most of us know it’s (highly) unethical. (Thanks to Sara Hawkins, by the way, for the clarification regarding copyright law!) Yet many foolishly embrace this practice, even in an electronic age. Famous plagiarists include T.S. Eliot; Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alex Haley; our own VP, Joe Biden; James Cameron; Martin Luther King, Jr.; Madonna; and sadly, the list continues.

I’m certain at some point we’ve all plagiarized content—either on purpose or by sheer coincidence. After all, the notion there are that many unique ideas does seem somewhat far-fetched.

I, myself, while an undergrad, would recycle term papers I wrote. I’d slap on a new title page and, ta-da! My History term paper was also my African-American Literature paper.  I did it for two reasons: Sheer laziness and an “experiment” to unfortunately confirm that teachers who weren’t so fond of my snarkiness would grade my papers two grades lower than those who embraced a witty tongue.

Flash forward 20 years: I’ve learned my lesson. Others, however, have not.

A Startling Discovery

While doing research I came across a local “competitor’s” website, Impulse Creative. As I was just about to leave the site, I noticed a “website grader.” Hmmm, I thought. The only website grader I know of is HubSpot’s marketing grader. I clicked the link and there it was: “Try Our Free Website Grader.” Even says so in the URL.

Being the skeptic I am, I provided my email. I was also entered to win a $100 Adwords gift card, according to the instructions on the site: fill out the form to the right to get started and be entered to win. Somehow, though, methinks Impulse Creative doesn’t actually award that. Hello, FTC?

Moments later, I received an email from Remington Begg at Impulse Creative: click here to see your report. The link took me directly to HubSpot’s online marketing grader.

Hmm…weird, right? I went back to Impulse Creative’s website and reviewed the info. Their website clearly says, “Try (operative word) Our Free Website Grader.”

Gee, what else did he steal? I moseyed on over to their blog and there they were. Blog after blog after blog, all blatantly stolen. The blog’s author (and owner of Impulse Creative), Remington Begg, didn’t borrow bits and pieces of others work—he literally copied entire posts word for word.

Like this post Remington Begg wrote about 3 BIG Social Media Marketing Faux Pas.

He stole it from Mari Smith’s PDF titled The 12 Biggest Social Media Marketing Mistakes Businesses Make.

As Mari Smith has over 76,000 Facebook fans and co-hosts webinars with Apple’s former chief evangelist Guy Kawasaki, it’s beyond comical someone could think they’d get away with stealing her work.

I called Remington Begg out on Twitter. He backpedaled and thanked me (what the what?!) for pointing out the similarities and went so far as to @ tag Mari in the tweet.

Next up, Remington Begg wrote another post titled STOP! 15 Signs your Web Designer is NOT an Online Marketer.

He stole this content, word for word, from Hollis Thomases’ blog 23 Signs Your Web Developer Is Not an Online Marketer.

Hollis Thomases writes for…wait for it…Inc. magazine. Naturally, I alerted Hollis, who then called out Remington on Twitter.

While Remington never replied to Hollis’ tweet, he did edit his original blog—but it’s still blatantly plagiarized. After all, they both have the same title. Well, except that Hollis knows the difference between a web developer while Remington revised it to web designer, which is not the same function as a developer. Seriously, people?

I ran several more of his blog posts through Grammarly’s Plagiarism Grader (yes, there is such a thing). Every blog I entered was reported as plagiarized, including the small bio of their free Internet Marketing 101 Webinar.

And it’s not just blogs Remington plagiarized. He even stole Impulse Creative’s social media capabilities from Myrtle Beach Web Design.

There’s also Impulse Creative’s eBook, 5 Steps to Turn your Website in to a Marketing Gold Mine!

Nice cover, eh? Has the Impulse Creative logo. Gives the impression Impulse Creative wrote it. Only to open the book and discover it’s from…HubSpot.

The Implications of Plagiarism

There are also far-reaching results once plagiarized copy is published online.

I found Impulse Creative based on a Google search, which brought forth their plagiarized content. Fortunately, Google has measures in place to blacklist any site that’s stuffing key words or plagiarized content, but only if the content’s originator reports it.

What about web hosting? To ensure accuracy of online content, GoDaddy, among many other web hosts, will not host a site if it publishes plagiarized content.

Furthermore, plagiarism ruins reputations. Just ask three-time Pulitzer Prize winner and Washington Post journalist Sari Horwitz. Horwitz plagiarized work from the Arizona Republic’s stories about Jared Lee Loughner, who was accused of shooting Representative Gabrielle Giffords in the head

While I later learned Impulse Creative is a HubSpot reseller, one has to ask, is Impulse Creative’s serial plagiarism a wise brand extension for HubSpot? Could this one bad apple in HubSpot’s orchard ruin the whole crop? Do a stranger’s unethical business practices affect those around them?

One can look to the formerly prestigious Chicago-based accounting firm Arthur Andersen for precedence. After criminal charges were filed against Andersen for mismanaging Enron’s audit, Arthur Andersen went under in a screaming ball of flames. The result of unethical business practices at the top trickled down to everyone in the company. It was bad enough that Arthur Andersen’s employees lost their jobs, but they now face an uphill battle trying to prove themselves to prospective employers because of criminal wrongdoing by a few senior level folks at their former employer.

This is why Remington Begg’s blatant and serial plagiarism really chaps… my… hide.

His plagiarism has a trickle-down effect on me, as well as my other competitors. We now could all be seen as guilty of selling his snake oil, merely by being locals in the same industry. Consider the following scenario: “I’ve had two new clients in the last month that have been deceived by those before me. They sold me X. I received Y. I’m out thousands. Why should I hire you?”

Aside from being a morally and ethically bankrupt personal and professional practice, passing someone else’s content off as your own cheats not only your clients but also your industry.

As the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism states, “When you plagiarize, you violate two of the most important standards we uphold as journalists: honesty and accuracy.”

That sound advice isn’t just relevant in journalism—it’s an important guiding principle for all industries. And after all—isn’t it simply common sense to make sure your work is your own?

Like her love for adventure travel, Karen Moran’s 15-year advertising career has been quite a journey. After launching her ad career at Leo Burnett, she went on to BBDO, Publicis & Hal Riney, West Wayne and others, working with a diverse array of clients that include Dodge, ToyotaOldsmobile, Sealy, OfficeMax, Time Warner Cable, Disney Cruise Line, Canyon Ranch and the Kissimmee Convention & Visitors Bureau. She even worked on post-Hurricane Katrina marketing efforts for the Mississippi Gulf Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau.
 
Karen has since given up big ad agency life to go off on her own.  She is now Chief Mischief Maker (aka Head Cheese) at Magnet Social Media. When not diligently working to help small brands ignite and foster social dialogue, Karen enjoys her time being out on the water.  After all, her company is  located on a tiny palm tree-laden, stoplight-free island called Matlacha off Fort Myers, Florida. Population less than 800. No, really, it is. And if you get a chance to speak with Karen, be sure to ask her how she got a Major League Baseball player…to tweet.
Image by wonderferret via Creative Commons
  • TheTysonReport

    Thanks for a well-written post. Ultimately plagiarism can only be a short term fix. If you just copy content but don’t have the knowledge to back it up then that will become apparent to your customers before too long and your reputation will be hurt, as Remington Begg’s is by this post.

    In ten years I don’t think this will be an issue because the environment is ripe for someone to come up with a really effective solution to online content theft – and I believe it WILL happen.

    Or perhaps, with things like Klout and search rankings being informed by social signals, bad practices like these will just cease to become worth it because we just won’t use any supplier who DOESN’T have endorsements from people we know and trust in some way. We’ll be able to access that information right there at the point of sale. We’re slowly getting to that stage already I feel.

  • http://pegfitzpatrick.com/ Peg Fitzpatrick

    Thanks for the fantastic article. I have been dealing with this and found a similar site to the one you listed. She had stolen a whole post of mine and when I went through had stolen much of her material from Hubspot, Mashable and others. Her thought was that it was ok because Hubspot was big and they wouldn’t mind. What are these people thinking?

    I also had a “gentleman” request a quote from my company for services and when I looked at his service offerings, he was offering much of the same but his language looked familiar. He copied almost all of his website from someone whom I promptly notified.

    I will definitely be checking out your resource!

  • ShellyKramer

    Aren’t people crazy? No matter how much I read about this, I’m always amazed, Peg, by the audacity – and stupidity – I encounter. [shakes head]

  • http://www.veritate-et-virtute.com BurgessCT

    Shelley – thanks for this piece – chaps my hide – absolutely it does.  

  • http://www.seekomega.com Mark Fidelman

    Wow! Remington Begg is probably a fake name – but still!?!?

  • http://www.sociallyengagedmarketing.com CharityHisle

    No matter what you do, there is always someone that thinks they deserve your level of success without actually having to do any work. From email phishers trying to get your money to plagiarist trying to steal your credibility and your clients, there will always be someone, somewhere that wants what you have bad enough to steal it.

  • http://twitter.com/saving4someday Sara Hawkins

    Just so you know, plagiarism is NOT illegal in the US. Unethical yes, illegal, no. There are no laws, state or federal, that make it a crime or provide for a civil means of recourse for plagiarized work.

    Copyright infringement is illegal, in nearly all countries around the world, however. And there are a variety of means to pursue someone who is alleged to infringe your copyright.

  • ShellyKramer

    I love my smartest lawyer friend. Thanks Sara … appreciate the clarification!
    PS I miss you!!

  • http://occamsrazr.com Ike Pigott

    Karen, your piece is so spot-on, I can’t possibly improve upon it.

    I will copy it exactly and re-post on my site, so more people will understand just how rotten this is!

  • ShellyKramer

    Troublemaker.

  • katgordon

    Great piece, Karen! Oddly enough, in advertising you often will see agencies “borrowing” taglines from the past. On The Pitch, one of the campaigns that was presented to Subway was “Let’s Fix Breakfast.” No one bothered to check, or care, that Stouffer’s has a campaign out called “Let’s Fix Dinner.” 

  • http://twitter.com/saving4someday Sara Hawkins

    Miss you too! Thank you for the flattery *blush*. And thanks for updating the article incase people don’t read thru the comments. 

  • http://www.qualitylogoproducts.com/ Jill Tooley

     I’ve resented plagiarizers since I was in high school, but it’s a whole new kind of resentment in a professional setting. My industry (promo items) is also extremely susceptible to content theft, and we’ve had A LOT of our hard work ripped off over the years. Talk about “chapping the hide”. It’s both sad and infuriating to discover that someone else is gaining from your blood, sweat, and tears. I work my butt off to write creative, unique content, and the idea that someone else could copy/paste it in a fraction of the time is maddening! :(

    Anyway, thanks for sharing your experience with plagiarism. Somehow, it’s comforting to know that other people are dealing with these same issues…

  • Samra Muslim

    Love the piece and the points made. Being original is NOT that difficult people ….

  • ShellyKramer

    LOL. No. It is not!

  • ShellyKramer

    LOL @Hollis. You’re welcome. I hate it when commenting is inconvenient, too!

    You’re right, this guy IS a creep and we all need to do something to combat stuff like this when our content is hijacked – letting them continue on is not an option. At least it’s not for me.

    Thanks for coming by (and I’m sorry your comment got stuck in moderation – it was that link!) … always a pleasure seeing you here!

    Shelly

  • ShellyKramer

    But of course!

  • ShellyKramer

    And it annoys me. Beyond belief!

  • ShellyKramer

    Heh heh!

  • http://marksherrick.wordpress.com/ MarkSherrick

    Funny how around the time he was called out by the people mentioned here and a few others, that he copped to being a hubspot “partner” whatever that means.

    Title copies, thematic copies, similar posts I can see. Direct copies including unchanged linguistic and grammar, as well as literal copy/paste make me sick. Taking the extra five minutes to either reference, credit or come up with your own spin isn’t really that goddamn (pardon my french) difficult.

  • ShellyKramer

    He’s an ass. No buts about it. [shakes head]

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  • Joy

    Excellent post. I was once accused of plagiarism (I hadn’t!!) and I was gutted. I received the email while on holiday and it completely ruined the holiday for me I was so upset.

    My article was totally written by myself (as homework for a college course BEFORE I was even on the Internet).
    When I challenged my accuser to produce the other article there were about three sentences that were SIMILAR – not even identical – but the guy wouldn’t relent and accept that MY article was my own work. Nor would he accept that the other author could have plagiarised MY work.

    I will never forget my feeling of outrage and hurt at this accusation :-(

  • Formula 302

    I agree that plagiarism is wrong. But I just ran this blog through Grammarly and it came back as plagiarized or “unoriginal text detected” :/… How accurate is Grammarly?

  • http://www.magnetsocialmedia.com/social-media-blog.html Karen Moran

    Well as I know for a fact I spent an entire weekend writing this blog post, I can guarantee it’s 100% authentic. So my guess would be I have several items in quotes here and that’s why it was flagged as such. Either way this doesn’t excuse Remington Beggs’ plagiarism.

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